Fluffy Squirrel; Fluffy Mouse: Mount Kinabalu Days Two and Three

Malaysia's flag
Asia » Malaysia » Sabah » Mount Kinabalu
June 27th 2018
Published: June 28th 2018
Edit Blog Post

My very scientific title refers primarily to the Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel and the Lesser (Short-tailed) Gymnure. The former is very common and extremely cute and fluffy, the latter I’ve seen once very briefly dash into the vegetation by the side of the road near the top not far from the Timpohon Gate. They super cool and not actually mice or even rodents (they’re insectivores, in the hedgehog family). There are lots of different squirrels around though, many of which are very cool like the Whitehead’s Pygmy with its awesome white ear-tufts as well as the almost as small Red-bellied Sculptor Squirrel along with several other montane squirrel species. If you like squirrels, Mt Kinabalu is definitely the place to be! There are also lots of treeshrews that look confusingly similar to ground squirrels. But the most exciting squirrel was late this morning around the bottom of a trail called the Kiau View Trail when I saw a squirrel that looked rather like a Prevost’s moving quickly through the tree canopy but it wasn’t quite as pure black as the plutoprevost’s that occur in this area (and they’re lower down as well) with a distinctive red belly and stripe at the side which was only just about visible as it moved high in the canopy. A Kinabalu Squirrel! They’re supposed to be quite difficult to find and rarely seen so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to see one.

The other notable mammal was last night while spotlighting. I’ve decided that my spotlighting focus should be vipers because there’s a few cool endemic species that occur here and it should be possible to find them on the trail at night. An because… well, because vipers. I have to be careful not to get bitten though. Even with travel insurance, I’d rather not have to rush to hospital with a snake bite. Anyway, I haven’t found any vipers yet, but while I was walking along a trail contemplating the lack of vipers, a smallish rat ran across the path and into the trees on the other side and it seems like it was a Montane Bornean Niviventer which is cool. Or Long-tailed Mountain Rat if you want to be boring about the name.

Plenty of birds about in the day too and I’ve seen some species that I think are quite difficult in addition to the common and obvious species but they’re pretty much all montane Bornean endemics which is awesome! I’ve got the fruithunter and the bald laughingthrush which I think are more difficult species and in the forest just around the Timpohon Gate I managed a couple of the species which generally occur higher up and thought I might miss due to not being able to go past the gate: Montane Blackeye and Island Thrush. The latter especially I thought I would miss by not being able to go above the gate. This morning I also finally saw a Whitehead’s Trogon and it really is a stunning species. After two and a half days (half my time on the mountain) of not seeing it, I was just starting to worry that I might dip on my most desired species but I finally got one along the Silau-Silau trail. It’s a really conspicuous bird in flight or when it’s on an exposed perch with front or tail towards you, but then when it’s hunkered down on a mossy branch and you look at it from the side, it really blends in incredibly well. It would be very easy to walk past one just off to the side of the trail. I still haven’t got either of the two montane/ endemic partridges yet or the Whitehead’s Spiderhunter or the Serpent-eagle, as well as a couple of other minor bits and pieces still to get (like the other thrushes, leafbird, shortwing, etc.) but given that I’ve just had three days on the mountain and have another two I should be able to get quite a good chunk of the endemics. Five full days is a good length of time I think to tease out those last endemics and it really is a lovely place to walk around. Unfortunately a couple of the best trails are closed which is a shame (and will make the partridges more difficult) but there are plenty of nice trails still open. The other really cool birdy thing is that first thing in the morning just at sunrise, loads of birds are attracted to the lamp posts around the park HQ which are left on all night to hunt for months that are attracted to the light. Chestnut-Crested Yuhinas especially which are super fun birds to watch. A big group of them go up to a lamp post then all start jumping around excitedly and screeching when they find a moth.

I have asked about the situation with going past the Timpohon Gate to try for the very high altitude species that I otherwise will miss (three species I think: the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler, Fawn-breasted Parrotfinch and Pale-faced Bulbul are basically impossible below the Timpohon Gate. The latter might be possible, but I don’t think any of those three are guaranteed by any means above Timpohon and all the super-common-above-Timpohon birds like the blackeye are scarce but around near the gate.) but the absolute cheapest to go anywhere past the gate at all is RM530 which is rather insane. I went to the Sabah Parks office to try and get permission and spoke to the top person who is actually stationed here at the mountain and he was very nice about it and sympathised with what I wanted to do and the ridiculousness of the price (and when I explained why I wanted to just go up for the day he immediately responded with “Oh, so you’re a birder then. Which species are you looking for?” which suggests that I’m not the first person to try and do this), but all the real high-ups in Sabah Parks who could authorise me to go past the gate without a full summit attempt are in KK and I would actually have to go to the Sabah Parks office there to get permission.

Before the major earthquake on Kinabalu in 2015 when 18 people died, you used to be able to go up to a rest hut 4km past the Timpohon Gate (Layang Layang Rest Hut) which is all I wanted to do because that’s far enough up to have all the species and it’s a proper trail with steps up to there. But after the earthquake they made guides mandatory past the Timpohon Gate (I’m not sure why though to be honest: it’s not like having a guide stops an earthquake and four of the eighteen people who died were the guides) and I was willing to just hire a guide at an hourly rate but they’ve gradually been making it more and more restrictive and now the whole place is controlled by a resort company called Sutera Sanctuary Lodges who runs everything in the park (hence why I’m staying just outside the park and using restaurants that are just outside the park: everything is 10x the price inside). To go past the gate I’d need to pay Sutera to allow me to get a permit that is part of their quota and all the permits and guide fees are for two days 1 night now (the standard for summiting the mountain) and you can’t get them for a shorter time. So RM530 is the minimum to go past the gate at all (broken down into RM200 for a 2D1N permit RM230 guide 2D1N because neither is available for shorter and RM100 for absolutely nothing other than as a ransom to Sutera because they otherwise will only sell permits to those paying for their atrociously expensive accommodation halfway up. In fact the Sutera Bribe may well be more than that depending on what bits of the quota are still available and given the short notice, if I actually tried to do this it would probably be more). So that’s ridiculous and I’ll have to just miss those endemics.

Most people think there’s just one leech on the mountain: the endemic Kinabalu Giant Leech. But there’s actually two, the Kinabalu Leech eats earthworms and the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges Leech is a highly invasive species on Kinabalu and it sucks money. Is Sutera actually affiliated with Sabah Parks at all or is it actually a private company making a (presumably enormous) profit off the park? If the latter, then that really irks me. Unlike at Danum where the overpriced everything is actually funding the centre. And I actually found a third leech this morning, far more normal than the other two. A stowaway in my bag when I got out a new pair of trousers from Danum: a tiger leech had hitched a ride! It looked rather feeble and was presumably very cold but it was just about alive. I must admit I had definitely hoped that I was done with tiger leeches for a while! All of my stuff is really covered in mud and those plant seeds that hook onto your clothes and it turns out leeches too. I wonder what Australian Quarantine at Darwin Airport is going to think of it in a week and a bit…

So just to discuss the rest of my trip; I’ve decided that I’m going to skip Poring Hot Spring. There are a few birds there that would be really cool but the chance of actually seeing the particularly cool birds is quite low I think. The Hose’s Broadbill, two Banded pitta species, and Crested Partridge being possible at Poring but unlikely and I don’t have enough time at this end of the trip to put in a long enough visit to try for them. I’ll have to leave that for the next time I’m in Sabah. I’m also getting quite travel-fatigued and the thought of moving somewhere with all the buses etc. that involves for a single night is not very appealing. After Kinabalu though, I’m going to have a short but decent two night stay at the Crocker Range Park HQ near Keningau. I think it’s going to be a bit annoying getting there by bus going via KK but it should be doable to get there in a day hopefully. It’s lower altitude than here but still hill forest (i.e. not montane. I think it’s at a bit over 1000m while the bit of Kinabalu I’m at is 1600+. Just for informational purposes Poring which I won’t be visiting on this trip is around 500m and up from there and is also in Kinabalu Park but in the foothills about 40km from the bit of the park where I’m at). So there are a couple of species at that altitude at Crocker that I should be able to get easily but won’t get at here. After Crocker I’ve got three nights at Kota Kinabalu, with two day trips planned, before the end of the Bornean leg of the trip (and then on to Australia!). This is the one bit of the trip where being able to drive would be handy to get a car for a few days and go to some different sites dotted around the Crocker Range but I can’t unfortunately and I think a couple of nights around the park HQ area will be my best bet.

So two more days here at Mount Kinabalu and hopefully I’ll get a few more endemic birds and maybe find some mammals and herps, but it’s a really interesting mountain to walk around anyway with all the moss and orchids (though I’ve not seen any flowers) and streams with Bornean Hill Loaches and it’s a nice place to relax. I’ve not seen any pitcher plants at all though and there are supposed to be a few species around and it would be nice to see one. Though naturally the wildlife watching equation of morning birding + spotlighting = insufficient sleep still applies.

There are also some fairly small brown bats flying around and I was thinking that there can’t be that many bad species about 1700m on Kinabalu but I can’t find a bat survey at such a high altitude so if anyone knows what they could be please let me know. Also, are all the swiftlets that you see looking up from Timpohon Gate the endemic Kinabalu Swiftlet? That’s what I’ve been told but I don’t know. I know the ones at the entrance gate are the common Glossy swiftlet.

(I’ll do another post for the next two days where I’ll include the full Mount Kinabalu mammal and bird list)

Oh, and another thing. There’s one bird species that I had seen every day of the trip so far (including in Thailand and at high altitude at Bukit Fraser and in urban areas and remote rainforest areas in both West and East Malaysia) but that I have not seen at all at Mount Kinabalu. Any guesses?

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


28th June 2018

Guess the bird
29th June 2018

Nope, this is one species rather than something like bulbuls in general. Although Yellow-vented Bulbul is close but not quite everywhere.

Tot: 0.159s; Tpl: 0.012s; cc: 9; qc: 50; dbt: 0.0654s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.2mb